Deep forests have never been the quiet haven that you might think they are. There’s the wind blowing through the leaves in the canopy making the trees themselves creak or sweeping the leaves along the floor, and the rustling noises that incurs. There’s always some noise from the plants. Then there are the creatures that live there, the clicking of the squirrels, the pecking of the birds and, of course, the bickering of the dryads.
“What are we going to do with all this gold Robin?”
“I don’t know do I? How was I supposed to know it was there, eh John?”
“Well, they were quite heavily armed.”
“Yes, but so were whoever it was that cut down George.”
They were standing in the clearing a short way from the track through the forest. In the middle lay a pile of crates with their lids open, revealing inside gold and silver coins along with smaller bags filled with gems, everything glittering in the shafts of sunlight that made their way through the trees. At the edge of the clearing, four large dryads were digging graves for the soldiers that had been guarding the coach they had recently ambushed.
“Well, yes, there is that. I’ll give you that.”
“Oh, thank you very much John, I feel so much better now that you’ve given me that. Now that you’ve admitted that there may well have been some confusion, yes, I feel better. Thank you.”
The sarcasm was obviously lost on John. He didn’t look up but continued to stare at the boxes full of riches.
“I mean, they’re dressed the same, they’re carrying axes too. Although these blokes here have swords as well.”
“You’re not helping you know John. I mean, how was I supposed to know?”
“That’s what I’m saying Robin, they look almost sort of similar to the guys who chopped down George.”
“Almost sort of similar?”
“Very similar,” John agreed as the sarcasm disappeared and a slightly more threatening note entered Robin’s voice.
“Look, last week a dozen blokes came along and started chopping down trees to make a clearing for another village. They didn’t pay attention to what they were doing, and they chopped down George. When we woke up to the screams, all we saw were their backs as they ran away. And were they or were they not dressed like those blokes there?” Robin asked, pointedly.
“There were Robin, they were,” was the hurried agreement from John.
“So how was I supposed to know that these were soldiers and not heavily armed lumberjacks?”
“You weren’t Robin, you weren’t. So what are we going to do? This’ll make people come looking to find out what happened as soon as they realise it’s missing.”
“I know John, I know. Look, let me think for a moment.”
The two dryads who were obviously in charge of the group stood staring at the pile in the middle of the clearing as the diggers continued to bury the soldiers, while the rest of the band shuffled their feet.
After a few minutes of deliberately staring either at the crates or at a space a few feet away from them, a shorter, thicker-set and darker skinned dryad wandered over.
“That’s a lot of money there, Robin; you could do a lot of good with that money.”
“What? Tuck, look, I know you mean well, you even socialise with the humans at times trying to get us all to ‘just get along’, but what on earth are you on about?”
“Well, I know we’ve no use for it but I keep trying to tell you, the humans put a lot of store in money. Which is why there will be more soldiers along. They’re more concerned about the money than they are about the soldiers. They can easily hire more soldiers, but they’ll need the money to do it. It’s the money they put store in, not life.”
“You’re not making this any better Tuck. We need to get rid of this.”
“Well, yes. But how?”
“You say that the humans put a lot of store in this stuff?” John asked, raising his hand to his chin to stroke his beard in a way that Ming the Merciless would have destroyed planets to master, if he actually existed.
“Oh yes, lots. They positively live for it,” Tuck answered. “And die for it. I think they die for it more than they live for it.”
“How about then, we sneak into the nearest village tonight, and just give it back to the humans there?”
“What, just leave it with them?”
“Sure Tuck, why not? I mean, if we give it back to the humans then perhaps they’ll know we made a mistake, just as they did, and we can just move on?”
“He’s got a point there Tuck,” John agreed. “It’s possible. Not likely, but possible.”
“What d’you reckon Tuck?” Robin asked. “Will it work?”
“I’m not sure Robin, they’ll have got the money back, but there’s still the soldiers.”
“Oh come on Tuck you little stump, you’ve got to have a bit more of an optimistic outlook on life; you’re the one that said they can buy more soldiers.”
“Well I’m sorry we can’t all be as merry as you, Robin.”
Robin clapped his hands together, disturbing the relative peace of the clearing as one of the diggers dropped his spade onto another digger’s foot.
“Okay lads, we’re sorted. We’ll sneak into the nearest village tonight and drop the gold off. Try and spread it out around the village, make sure that everyone gets some so that everyone knows it was a mistake and that we’re not after any trouble.”
The dryads shrugged their shoulders and started to gather up the gold, silver and gems. They moved silently back into the deep forest leaving the clearing looking untouched, with nothing but a few small rises marking the graves to show that there had been a fight and a meeting there.
As the sun rose in the morning, the villagers awoke to another day of toil in the fields for the local baron; but this morning there was more than windswept dirt at their doors. Each villager had been left a small fortune in gold or silver or precious gems. And atop each pile was a note written by someone to whom writing came as a struggle. But the villagers weren’t educated either so it didn’t matter too much:
I, Robin, Hoo’ed, Let it be nown that dis, Gold be four the villigers
It was a legendary note; it spawned legends.